Sonya Hebert Joins White House Photography Staff

By Donald R. Winslow
© 2012 News Photographer magazine


WASHINGTON, DC, – Photojournalist and NPPA member Sonya N. Hebert has joined the staff of the White House photography department, official presidential photographer Pete Souza announced today, and this was her first day at her new job at the country's most famous address on Pennsylvania Ave.

With an undergraduate degree in political science from Emory University in Atlanta, and having studied photojournalism in the masters degree program at the Ohio University School of Visual Communication, Hebert is note exactly new to the White House. She was an assistant to the White House director of communications during the William Jefferson Clinton administration, beginning in 1999, working on planning and executing Clinton "message" events.

Before joining the President Barack Obama White House photography staff this week, Hebert was a staff photographer at The Dallas Morning News. She joined the Morning News staff full-time in 2007 following an internship at the paper. In 2009 she was a nominated finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography for her Morning News photographic series which depicted the state of palliative care in a Texas medical center where terminally ill patients were coping with the end of their lives.

Souza says Hebert will spend about half of her time covering First Lady Michelle Obama, and otherwise will shoot in support of the staff covering the President.

Hebert got interested in photography after her undergraduate degree while working in communications at the Clinton White House.

"When I saw all the 'jumbo' prints of President Clinton around the West Wing, I was impressed," she told News Photographer magazine today.

"I had not thought about photography in that way before, about how storytelling images were really powerful. I thought to myself, I really need to check this out a little more." After the Clinton administration ended and she left the White House, she spent most of the next year traveling around Europe as her interest in photography grew.

"During that time I played with photography a lot," she says, "and when I got home I decided to give it a try and to make it my career. I fell in love with the idea of being able to impact readers with images that are storytelling, that cross over language and cultural divides." Doing some investigating, Hebert decided that Ohio University's School of Visual Communication (VisCom) was going to be the best option for her continued studies. Then during her first year in the VisCom program, she interned at The Virginian-Pilot.

Hebert replaces Samantha Appleton, who joined the White House photo staff in February 2009 and left in November 2011 to write a book about America's war in Iraq. Appleton covered the first three years of the Iraq war for TIME and The New Yorker, and she told News Photographer magazine today that as the re-election campaign season approached she felt the timing was right to depart the administration and to start writing her book.

Last year Hebert was awarded at 2011 DART Award from the Columbia University School of Journalism Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, and a 2011 National Headliner Award. In 2010, she won an Edward R. Murrow Award for video feature reporting, and in 2009 she won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. That same year she was a finalist for the Sidney Hillman Prize for Photojournalism, and she was a 2009 Webby Award Official Honoree for a documentary video ("At The Edge Of Life") from her palliative care series.

Hebert was also a volunteer multimedia producer for the Eddie Adams Barnstorm Workshops in 2009, and from 2003 through 2005 she was the assistant director of The United States Senate Press Photographers' Gallery in Washington. The photojournalist has been an NPPA member since 2005.